Steven Bailey’s family has been in tobacco for generations. But unlike many of the growers and cigar-makers in Latin America, Bailey’s family grows flue-cured tobacco, primarily in Virginia. In fact, within a three-mile radius of Bailey’s southern Virginia office is the region where his family has been cultivating tobacco since the 1860s. As a child, Steven worked in the tobacco fields, starting when he was 10 years old. With tobacco farming, Bailey says the work is never done. After school and in the summers he would help his family. “We had acres of tobacco and you never finished on the farm. All summer long, that is what I did.”
From the Cigarette to the Premium Cigar
In 1980, Steven’s father got into the tobacco warehouse business in addition to the growing. The warehouse was where farmed tobacco was sold at auction. The elder Bailey became a middleman between the farmers and the manufacturers. When he graduated high school, Steven knew what he wanted to do and jumped right into the family business.
In 1993, they decided to start making cigarettes, with Steven recalling, “We resolved to make a cigarette as cheap as we could and put it on the market … that was our marketing plan.” They found a manufacturer in Virginia and sold about 27 cartons the first week. Eventually, they decided to go in-house for manufacturing because their volume was increasing. The Baileys’ success with cigarettes looked in jeopardy when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) came into the picture in 2009. But they fought back and were one of the very few companies to navigate the FDA’s complex approval process and were granted substantial equivalency for their Tahoe and Riverside cigarettes. Ironically, it was the FDA’s regulations that Steven says forced him into premium cigars. “I love to create different taste profiles with tobacco, building unique tobacco products for people to buy. The FDA prevents us from making new cigarette products.” So, instead, he turned to premium cigars.
The first thing he needed was a name for the new company. Cornelius and Anthony is a blending of old and new. Cornelius came from Steven’s great-great-grandfather, who grew tobacco and worked on the railroad, while Anthony is Steven’s middle name.
Steven began playing with black tobacco blends for cigars. The company made its debut at the 2016 IPCPR trade show with the launch of the Cornelius, the Daddy Mac, Venganza, and Meridian. Last year, Cornelius & Anthony added the Aerial and Señor Esugars. Most of the cigars are manufactured in Nicaragua at Erik Espinosa’s La Zona factory. The Cornelius is Miami-made at El Titan de Bronze. Being American-made, the Cornelius is the highest priced cigar in the portfolio at USD 12.60 for the Corona Gorda, but the medium-bodied cigar captures notes of both sweetness and spice. The Señor Esugars is a medium-to-full-bodied smoke and was a three-year project for Bailey, with a Mexican wrapper over a USA binder, and Nicaraguan fillers giving coffee, caramel and cocoa notes. The Vengaza is perhaps their fullest offering, with an Ecuador wrapper over Nicaraguan binder and fillers. Bailey says each blend highlights one of his family members, or helps to tell his family’s story. Cornelius & Anthony focuses on brick-and-mortar cigar shops. Says Bailey, “We really want to get to know the consumer and we want the consumer to get to know us. We want to know what he or she is looking for in terms of a product standpoint, and we want to understand that.” With solid growth in the US market, the company began reaching out to the rest of the world. Success in Norway, the Dominican Republic, and Ivory Coast has opened new markets for the company, with the United Kingdom, Germany, and Italy coming on board in 2018, followed by Sweden, Cyprus, Lebanon, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Australia.
But Bailey is a realist when it comes to cigar regulation, both in the United States and overseas. “If you sit back and look at everything that has happened, it’s ironic that cigarettes are going to be the product that has the least amount of problems remaining on the market. And you think, why is that? It all goes back to why the regulations were written in the first place: for the big guys to keep market share. Cigarettes are going to come out smelling like roses when this is all said and done.”
In the meantime, Bailey is committed to tobacco, and says he just hopes for the best, but plans for the worst.
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Spring Edition 2018. Read more